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4WD off-road adventure in Victoria's High Country

  • By Tim Robson
  • 1 May 2018
  • 9 min read
  • 4 Four day trip
    Forget the Kimberley or the top end. Australia’s most amazing 4x4 tracks are in Victoria’s high country.
  • Medium
    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.
  • 4 Four day trip
    Forget the Kimberley or the top end. Australia’s most amazing 4x4 tracks are in Victoria’s high country.
  • Medium
    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

Here’s a cold-hard fact; in 2017, Australians bought more 4x4 dual-cab utes than almost any other style of car.

Sure, a lot of those Toyota HiLuxes and Ford Rangers were bought for (ahem) "work purposes", but to me it also suggests that there’s life in that most endearing of all Aussie holiday plans: the big getaway.

For decades, we’ve all aspired to travelling to the ‘top end’, or the ‘big dune’… but quite often we can’t quite place our finger on where our dream destination actually is.

Our trip was one through the Victorian 'high country' Our trip was one through the Victorian 'high country'

So it has been for me and the notion of the Victorian ‘high country.’ Sure, as a lifelong New South Welshman, I sort of know where it is, but not really. I have it on good authority that this region – covering more than 500,000ha and known as the Victorian Alps – comprises the Bogong High Plains, Bowen Range, Cathedral Range and Cobberas Range, as well as numerous other smaller ranges. It’s sometimes called the High Plains or High Country, too, so there you go.

We’re joining a trip hosted by Isuzu, which is designed to get owners of D-Max utes and MU-X 4x4 SUVs off the beaten track. We’ll spend four days aboard the MU-X that, aside from a CB radio, is stock standard.

From Mt. Hotham to Bright

Day one: from Mount Hotham to Bright. Day one: from Mount Hotham to Bright.

Things start off pretty amazingly, all things considered, as we traverse the top of Mt Hotham; one of the most incredible views in all of Australia turns out to be one of the most accessible. A tight, winding trek along the Great Alpine Road and Dargo High Plains Road drops us onto the Blue Rag Range trail.

The trail itself is a reasonably challenging one, but it’s made a lot easier by deflating our tyres from a road-going 32psi (pounds per square inch) to 20psi. Oh, and a tip if you’re thinking about buying a gauge-style deflator … try before you buy. They are a pain to use unless you’ve been using one for years; I reckon a sharp stick, a decent pressure gauge and an ability to count are equally as effective.

The early autumn day can’t be any more crystal-clear as we wend our way across the there-and-back fireroad-width Blue Rag trail, which offers a series of challenging climbs over rocky terrain and equally eye-opening descents on the way back out. 

Truly epic views across hundreds of square kilometres of untouched Victorian forest are there for the taking at the trig point, as is a blustery, freezing reminder that the Victorian high country is not something to be trifled with – it’s the end of summer, and the temperature has fallen 10 degrees Celsius in a matter of minutes. It’s real ‘vastness of nature’ stuff up here.

Our guides are gently encouraging us gawpers to get a wriggle on as the shadows grow longer – this wouldn’t be a terrific place to be caught out overnight in, though our MU-X wouldn’t be a bad makeshift bivouac. A rousing country meal at the pub in Bright precludes an early night in anticipation of an early start.

From Bright to Mt No.3

Day two: Bright to Mt. No 3. Day two: Bright to Mt. No 3.

Fewer views on this shorter day, but there’s more challenging terrain as we depart Bright on the way to Lake Hovell via the King River. We climb sharply over genuine low-range terrain littered with hairpins and shale sheets before descending to our lunch stop at Lake Hovell, where sandwiches and instant coffee are a welcome pick-me-up after a long morning in the saddle. 

Gum trees stretching 50 metres into the sky shade our run across to the cattlemen’s huts at the imaginatively named Mount No3, as the high country shows us another one of its many moods. The day may not be brilliantly blue, but the vastness of the grey canopy against the ghostly gums is still an amazing sight to behold.

From Bright to Sheepyard Flat

Day three: from Bright to Sheepyard Flat. Day three: from Bright to Sheepyard Flat.

It’s a truly epic climb through dusty sunlit fireroads to the Circuit Road, where we make a brief stop to tackle the short climb on foot to Bindaree Falls, which loom 100m over a rocky outcrop. We hike in, marvelling at a view that could have been lifted straight from a Lord of the Rings film, before hustling back to our MU-X – which, it has to be said, is a brilliantly capable device right out of the box. 

What it lacks in electronic trickery, it makes up for in rugged simplicity, and the coil-sprung rear end adds oodles of ride comfort over the leaf-sprung – and largely unladen – D-Max utes.

Refuge huts are littered throughout the high country and make good spots for a break. Refuge huts are littered throughout the high country and make good spots for a break.

We continue to climb, reaching 1650m as we hit Bluff Hut, where a gourmet brown bag lunch never tasted so good as we gaze across the impossibly wide traverse of high country bushland all the way back to Mt Buller.

A rock-and-roll descent follows as we plunge into the Howqua Valley on this hot and bright day. A stop for a feed and a natter by the Howqua River at the Sheepyard Flat, and the day is done.

From Sheepyard Flat to Telephone Box Junction

Day four: from Sheepyard Flat to Telephone Box Junction. Day four: from Sheepyard Flat to Telephone Box Junction.

We wrap up our tour of this pretty amazing place with a day trip back out towards Mt Buller, tackling a deeply dusty route towards Mt No3 Refuge Hut, before a high-range 4x4 track takes us to the steep, tricky Monument Trail.

This is actually one of the coolest tracks we tackle over the weekend; the MU-X is on song, and we’re in rhythm with the level of grip and the quite astonishing ability of this standard, affordable rig. 

What’s also apparent is that you can take your dual-cab or wagon 4x4 on pretty serious trails and – providing you drive sensibly and are respectful of the terrain – you'll need do nothing more than give your off-roader a thorough clean, at the end of it all. There’s very little debris hitting the underside of the MU-X, very few places where the car bottoms out front or rear, and almost no instances of scraping through overgrown bushland.

Our trip ends at Telephone Box Junction with handshakes all round, before re-joining the (blessedly smooth!) bitumen for a dash back to Melbourne. Victoria’s high country isn’t just a vague notion of somewhere one should go any more; it’s a truly spectacular and readily accessible swathe of wilderness that needs to be experienced more than once to get the best out of it. We’ll be back for sure.

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